Jacobs' sales pitch is sure no fastball

KEN ROSENTHAL

January 26, 1993|By KEN ROSENTHAL

It has been five weeks since sportscaster Tom Davis reported on WQSR that Eli Jacobs had accepted an offer to sell the Orioles for $150 million.

Well?

Negotiations keep dragging, but one undeniable truth remains:

Jacobs must sell.

It might not happen tomorrow, or next week, or even next month. But it's going to happen, because Jacobs' banks and creditors aren't going to wait forever to collect the proceeds from the sale.

So, why the delay?

As usual with Jacobs, it's difficult to tell.

One theory is that Cincinnati investor Bill DeWitt is stalling in order to push Jacobs to the brink and secure the lowest price possible. Another is that Jacobs keeps adding stipulations every time the sale gets close, trying to cut the most favorable deal.

Let's start with DeWitt.

Initially, it was reported he had about six other investors, three of whom were his associates as minority partners in the Texas Rangers. But it's possible he's still trying to raise money.

Maybe a major investor withdrew.

Maybe DeWitt is furiously pursuing other backers.

Either would contribute to a delay.

To complete the sale, DeWitt must divest his interest in the Rangers, not just because he needs that money, but also because he can't own two teams. It is believed he controls a 5 percent share worth $1 million. Who wants to buy 5 percent of anything for that price?

According to one rumor, DeWitt had an answer:

Former President Bush.

As the rumor had it, Bush and former Cabinet members James Baker and Dick Cheney were going to buy out DeWitt and the three other minority partners shortly after Bush left office. It made sense: Bush needs something to do. His son, George W. Bush Jr., is the Rangers' general partner.

We are fam-a-lee, and all that.

Just think, Bush could have sat next to his old pal Bill Clinton when the Orioles played their home opener against Texas. He could have appeared in commercials with Jose Canseco. He could have . . .

Forget it.

A source who spoke with Bush said the former president dismissed the whole thing.

Not to worry, there's one other DeWitt scenario, and it might be the most logical. DeWitt sees Jacobs' banks and creditors showing restraint as they anticipate a quick sale of the Orioles. But he also knows their patience has a limit.

It's in DeWitt's interest to push Jacobs to the point where the lenders grow restless. No one knows if they're imposing an actual deadline, but eventually they'll want their money. At that point, DeWitt would shout "ballgame!" and move in for the kill.

Not a bad theory.

Except it underestimates Jacobs.

If DeWitt is indeed procrastinating, Jacobs surely is threatening him with the prospect of other potential buyers. Apparently, Boogie Weinglass is still in the picture. Who's to say there aren't others?

Thus, DeWitt could overplay his hand -- but if he blows the deal, well, that's business. Jacobs is accused of defaulting on $42 million in loans and personal guarantees. Other creditors have a stake in the sale. DeWitt would be foolish to rush, when delaying might save him tens of millions.

But, how long can this go on?

At some point, the banks might say, "Enough!" They could start making nasty threats. They could even send Jacobs into Chapter 11, turning a bank president into the club president, and Camden Yards into a giant ATM.

Chances are, it would never get that far. The banks don't want the hassle of running the team and having to sell it, a process that could take months. They want their money, as quickly as possible.

That's why all signs still point to a sale, maybe not for a week, maybe not for a month, but soon. Even before his financial troubles, it was widely assumed this was the point when Jacobs would get out -- with the All-Star Game coming, attendance booming and the resale value of the team peaking.

Now, Jacobs finds himself under heavy pressure to sell, from outside forces he never anticipated. The banks are standing by quietly as he restructures his financial empire, but Jacobs surely knows his time is running out.

He can run, but he can't hide.

He's going, going. . . almost gone.

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